“You don’t know everything!” The stocky teen behind the outburst tossed his bat into the dirt and stormed away from the plate, his quick stride kicking up dust under the temperate, late-afternoon sun. The slimmer, taller teen stared after his teammate, gesturing with one arm as if to bring him back. But Jersey stood alone, now, on the otherwise empty field. Jersey turned slowly away, looking far off into the cloudless azure sky, and strode toward the dugout to collect his gear.
“A bit abrupt,” I offered, standing aside as Jersey descended into the dugout.
“What do you know? You don’t play,” Quite right. I had never played ball – except for pick-up games when I was a kid. I just helped out here and there for the teen league.
“Too bad, though,” I commented, referring to the altercation. “You had a good suggestion. Bobby’s swing could use better follow-through.”
“Yeah, but he won’t listen,” Jersey quipped. “He could smack that ball out of the park if he’d only adjust his stance a bit.” Jersey shuffled his feet and raised his arms, mimicking the stance he had in mind.
I may not have been much of a ball player, but I had witnessed Jersey’s action. He could play ball. He might even be a star player for somebody one day (in my unlearned opinion).
“Why do you think he’s not listening?” I asked as Jersey stuffed his gear into his duffle bag.
“Stubborn, I guess,” Jersey mumbled. “Wants to do things his way…I don’t know.” He grabbed the bag, climbed out of the dugout, and started off.
“You ever hear of the word ‘winsome’?” I probed, falling in beside him.
“Win-some?” he repeated, questioningly.
“Yeah, engaging someone in an easy, tender-like way.”
“What’s that supposed to do?” he challenged.
“Well,” I began, matching his stride to keep up. “I know – and you know – that you have an edge in the game. And maybe Bobby knows it, too. But, no matter how much he might like to gain that edge, he has a certain amount of pride. We all have it. And it gets in the way.
Jersey pondered. “So, you’re saying my pride is the problem?”
“You don’t have any more pride than Bobby does,” I said. “I’m saying it’s the pride you both have that’s the challenge. That’s where ‘winsome’ comes in.”
“I don’t get it,” Jersey retorted, shaking his head and continuing his march toward the edge of the field.
“OK,” I began again. “Let’s say Bobby’s not a hard-head. Let’s say he’s just a little offended by advice. That’s the pride part. How might you offer advice without offending him?”
“I’m not trying to offend anybody,” Jersey snapped, reaching for the gate latch.
I reached the latch first, and hesitated. “Not intentionally,” I said slowly, softening my voice. He stopped, my hand still on the latch, and turned his head toward me. “Listen a sec, Jersey. You’ve got something good to say. Think about how you might say it so it will be received.” He looked at me quizzically. “What was it you said to him just now?”
“I told him his stance was wrong.”
“How would you take it if someone told you the same thing?”
Jersey was thinking.
“If you could do it over, how might you approach Bobby”?
“I dunno…maybe I’d say, ‘I could show you a better stance’.”
“Better,” I said. “But how about beginning with a compliment?”
“A compliment?” he asked, a bit confused.
“Sure. Something like, ‘You’ve got a great swing, Bobby. You meet the ball really well. If you’re game, maybe we could put a little more oomph in it. I’d like to see you put more balls over the fence’.”
“You think he’d go for that?” Jersey asked, almost to himself.
“No guarantee,” I said matter-of-factly. “But you think it might be worth a shot?”
I had to fly out of town on business for a fews weeks. I called the teen league manager one evening to catch up on things.
“Things are going well, he said. The Pirates seem to be making a move up in the standings.
“That’s news,” I responded.
“Say, you remember the husky kid the Pirates brought on this season?” he asked.
“You mean Bobby?” I questioned.
“Yeah, Bobby,” he confirmed. “Strangest thing – he’s started hitting better. Last game they had, he knocked three balls out of the park.”
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